Let's start with a quick look at the somewhat confusing terminology surrounding both construction options.
Poles Barns - AKA: pole buildings, metal pole barns, pole sheds, and post-frame buildings.
Metal Buildings - AKA: steel buildings, pre-engineered buildings, prefab buildings, and red iron buildings.
Also, as both building options generally have metal siding and roofing, it is easy to confuse the two from the outside.
Here's a quick overview of these two popular construction options, followed by a more detailed look at how they differ.
Pole barns are buildings made of wooden frames that are screwed and nailed together, while metal buildings are constructed using solid steel frames that are bolted together on-site. Typically, both types of building kits are delivered with steel panels for siding and roofing.
While pole barns have a lower initial cost than metal buildings, investing around 15% more in a steel structure can result in long-term savings through reduced maintenance expenses and lower insurance premiums of 30% or more.
Additionally, opting for a metal building offers the benefits of a highly durable building with a warranty of up to 40 years that adds value to your property.
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Wood Vs. Metal Construction
Although they look very similar from the outside, the real difference is apparent once you step inside. As you can see from the photos below, a pole barn has traditional wooden framing compared to a metal frame building with all steel construction.
What is a Pole Barn?
A pole barn is a type of agricultural outbuilding constructed using wood framing supported by poles or posts driven into the ground. They are typically used to house livestock, hay, farm equipment, and other agricultural supplies. Pole buildings are economical and easy to construct, making them an attractive option for small farms, ranches, and homesteads requiring additional storage space.
What is a Metal Building?
Metal buildings are structures comprising of solid steel framing components precision-engineered in modern manufacturing plants. They are known for their durability, strength, and resistance to the harshest environments. Metal-framed buildings are commonly used for commercial, industrial, agricultural, and, more recently, residential homes.
Pros & Cons of Each Construction Method
Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits and drawbacks of each building option.
|Metal Buildings||Pole Buildings|
|Durable and long-lasting, with minimal maintenance required (no painting or replacing rotten boards, etc.).||Lower cost for smaller buildings under 5,000 sq ft.|
|Extreme weather resistance and resistant to pests, rot, and fire.||Traditional, rustic aesthetic.|
|Versatile and can be used for various applications, from small garages to large warehouses.||Best suited to small-medium sized agricultural buildings such as sheds and small storage barns.|
|Potential for reduced insurance premiums (30% or more) due to the fire resistance of steel.||Easier to modify and expand for future growth.|
|Clear span widths up to 300 feet.||Do not require specialized labor to construct.|
|Trussless roof design allows for additional clearance and storage space.||Fast and simple construction.|
|Framing and wall/roof sheeting are typically warranted for up to 40 years.||Minimal site prep work when only a dirt floor is required.|
|Engineered to meet all local wind, snow, and seismic activity codes.||Reduced foundation cost with a dirt floor.|
|Higher build cost for buildings under 5,000 sq ft.||Requires more maintenance over time, including regular painting and replacing damaged wood.|
|Depending on the complexity of the design, they can take longer to construct.||Less durable and may be susceptible to pests, rot, and fire.|
|They may not have the same aesthetic/rustic appeal as a wood building.||Not suitable for locations with deep frost levels.|
|Require skilled labor and more specialized equipment to construct.||
Shorter lifespan than a metal building.
|Expansion can be expensive if not specified at the design stage. Requires expandable end-walls.||Limited interior clearances due to roof trusses and limited widths of 80 feet.|
Which is Cheaper a Pole Barn or a Metal Building?
You'll be pleased to hear that there's not much difference in price.
Here are some average costs for each construction option. Please note your final cost will depend on your location and options such as doors, windows, skylights, and insulation.
Typical Cost per Square Foot Breakdown
|ITEM||Metal Building ($/Sq Ft)||Pole Barn ($/Sq Ft)|
|Kit Package||$15 - $30||$12 - $23|
|Foundation (full slab)||$5 - $10||$5 - $10|
|Foundation (footings) *||$3 - $6||$3 - $6|
|Construction||$5 - $10||$5 - $10|
|Av. Installed Cost||$36||$31|
* dirt floor with concrete footings
Average Prices for Popular Sizes (kit only)
|Size||Metal Building||Pole Barn|
|30x40 (1,200 sq ft)||$24,960||$21,200|
|40x60 (2,400 sq ft)||$44,928||$38,460|
|50x100 (5,000 sq ft)||$83,200||$70,940|
For additional pricing, see our steel building cost estimator.
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Why Buy a Metal Building over a Pole Barn
Although pole-building kits are a great choice for those looking for a simple, no-frills structure, there are several reasons why (if your budget allows) you should strongly consider a metal-framed building.
Strength & Durability
Pole buildings and steel structures use different framing materials. Wood is cheap and easy to use but can be damaged by weather, fire, and pests. Steel is strong, durable, and needs little maintenance.
As the poles/columns for a pole building are buried in the ground, they can shift over time and must be straightened periodically.
Due to the nature of wood and the screw/nail connections, pole buildings struggle to offer a completely weatherproof building. A metal building with engineered framing and securely bolted connections offers a completely sealed and watertight building envelope.
Safety & Security
Wooden pole structures use chemically treated wood that can be poisonous to livestock and can't be recycled.
Steel is non-combustible by nature and provides a safe environment for its inhabitants.
Metal-framed structures are engineered to resist the harshest environments and meet all local building codes.
Savings Insurance & Maintenance
Due to the fire resistance of steel, insurance premiums can be up to 30% cheaper.
Steel buildings require virtually zero maintenance as opposed to pole structures that require painting and maintenance over time.
Key Differences Between a Pole Barn & Metal Barn
Design & Construction
Pole barns and metal buildings are erected using very different construction methods.
Post-frame buildings use wooden poles as framing, anchored into the ground, with 8 to 12 feet spacing. Metal buildings use pre-engineered steel I-beam columns anchored to a concrete foundation, with 20 to 30 feet spacing. This allows more flexibility in door placement and creates separate modules called bays.
Pole buildings are often not designed to meet local building codes because there is no prescriptive building code for pole buildings. On the other hand, steel buildings are designed to meet local codes for wind, snow, and seismic loads.
Pole barns and steel buildings are sold as DIY or professional construction kits. However, it is recommended to have prior construction experience for DIY, and for buildings larger than 3,000 square feet, it is advisable to hire a local construction crew.
Pole barns typically use a post-frame foundation consisting of wooden poles anchored in the ground, either driven directly into the ground or supported with concrete footings.
In contrast, steel buildings require a concrete slab foundation or a pier and beam foundation to securely anchor the building to the ground. Again, similar to the engineered mainframe, steel building foundations are engineered to meet all local codes.
A solid foundation is crucial for the longevity and stability of any building, and choosing the appropriate foundation for a pole building or metal building will depend on factors such as budget, soil conditions, and building usage.
Where are Metal & Pole Structures Built
As indicated earlier, pole barns are extremely popular as farm and agricultural buildings. To illustrate this, take a look at the maps below that clearly show that these structures are still popular among farmers and ranchers in the United States.
A Brief History of Pole and Metal Structures
Peter Norris developed the first steel buildings in 1848, which were nicknamed "iron houses" and sold to fortune seekers during the California Gold Rush. In 1909, Butler Manufacturing Company created the first pre-engineered metal buildings (PEMB) to provide garaging space for the Model T Ford.
Pole barns have a long history, dating back to the 1930s depression era when farmers in the United States first used them using decommissioned utility poles. The design was simple and cost-effective, allowing farmers to quickly and easily construct buildings to store equipment and livestock.
What is the lifespan of a pole building?
Pole barns are classified as semi-permanent structures and, properly maintained, can last up to fifty years.
Can pole barns withstand high winds?
A pole building can be engineered to withstand gusts of up to 90 mph. They are not recommended for high-wind areas and hurricane zones.
Is a pole barn cheaper than a metal barn?
A typical pole barn can be approximately 15% cheaper to build compared to a steel-framed building. The final cost will be dependent on where you build and the type of foundation required and the level of customization.
How long does it take to build a pole barn?
Small pole structures under 3,000 square feet can be erected in around three to five days with an experienced erection crew. For DIY builds a more realistic timeframe would be two to three weeks.